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Silent Killer: The True Cost of Neglect in Nursing Homes

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Disabled grandmother praying while sitting at home with wheelchair in background. neglect in nursing homes

Neglect in nursing homes is a serious problem that affects many elderly individuals in the United States. Individuals who are vulnerable and unable to defend themselves can suffer physical, emotional, and psychological harm. Being aware of the underlying causes of such mistreatment can help you prevent it and ensure the safety of your loved ones while they are under nursing home care.

Disabled grandmother praying while sitting at home with wheelchair in background. neglect in nursing homes

Nursing Home Neglect Statistics

Research shows that about 10% of all nursing home residents in the U.S. experience such mistreatment, with elderly women more likely to fall victim to it than elderly men. However, the global prevalence of nursing home abuse is even higher, at 15.7%.

Nursing home abuse is believed to be widely underreported. In the United States, for example, research indicates there is widespread patient neglect, with one out of every ten senior citizens experiencing some form of abuse, yet fewer than 20% of these cases are ever reported. For every reported instance of abuse in a nursing home, there are 24 that go unreported.

Neglect of nursing home residents takes place when the staff fails to provide them with sufficient care. 12% of nursing home staff admitted to neglecting residents, with the same percentage of residents reporting suffering from neglect.

Statistics have been released regarding nursing home abuse and neglect in Illinois. Some notable figures include:

  • Hospital ER visits resulting from nursing home abuse or neglect were reported in 130 incidents over a two-year period.
  • Illinois had 17 reported cases, which was the highest number of nursing home neglect and abuse incidents.
  • In 28% of cases, there was no evidence to suggest that nursing home abuse was reported to local law enforcement officials, with no hospital records or other documentation available.

Impact on Residents’ Health and Well-Being

Instances of abuse and neglect can occur in nursing homes, leading to severe psychological and emotional trauma in their residents. Neglect in nursing homes can have a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of residents. The consequences may include:

Hygiene Consequences

If residents are not provided with proper support and attention for maintaining their personal hygiene on a regular basis, it may result in unpleasant body odor, dirty skin, and wearing unclean, ill-fitting, damaged, or misplaced clothes.

Physical Health Consequences

Failing to provide sufficient care can speed up the process of physical health decline, making individuals more susceptible to illnesses and worsening their mental health conditions.

Neglect can lead to physical health issues such as anemia, dehydration, fatigue, recurring illnesses, untreated medical or dental issues, and weight loss or malnutrition.

Social and Emotional Consequences

The neglect of residents can have a severe social and emotional impact, including insomnia, isolation, loss of trust, personality changes, and suicidal thoughts.

In extreme situations, failure to provide adequate care in nursing homes can lead to wrongful deaths.

If you have a loved one who has suffered any of these consequences, a nursing home abuse lawyer can help you to hold those responsible accountable for the harm that they have caused.

Regulations and Guidelines in Place for Nursing Homes

In 1988, Illinois passed the Illinois Elder Abuse and Neglect Act, which includes provisions to assist law enforcement and social workers in responding to reports of elder abuse. According to this act, it is mandatory for elder care and other professionals who are in contact with seniors aged 60 and over, and are unable to take care of themselves, to report any signs of abuse.

Due to an increase in reports of abuse in nursing homes and long-term care facilities across the state, the Illinois Nursing Home Care Act was passed in 2011. This act established a resident’s bill of rights and set a baseline skill level, requiring training for nurses, assistants, and technicians. It also gave families and community groups the power to monitor nursing homes and ensure they provide the mandatory quality of care. Additionally, the act increased the enforcement strength of agencies such as the Illinois Department of Public Health.

The Illinois Department of Public Health is the agency responsible for ensuring that nursing homes comply fully with state regulations. Each year, the department responds to around 6,000 complaints related to nursing homes.

Nursing homes are evaluated through surveys that assess the facility, its equipment, staff, policies, procedures, and finances. On average, nursing homes in Illinois are inspected once every 12 months.

According to the Illinois Administrative Code, nursing home administrators must ensure that supervisors attend appropriate educational programs every year. The law also mandates that new employees receive training, and that all employees undergo ongoing training at least once a year. Volunteers must also receive training that includes information about residents’ rights.

Forms of Neglect in Nursing Homes

Types of neglect in nursing homes include inadequate food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care. This can include failing to quickly address bedsores, neglecting to change bedding or adult diapers regularly, and not feeding, bathing, or dressing residents. Bedridden and severely ill residents are particularly vulnerable to nursing home neglect, especially in low-quality or understaffed homes, or homes with inadequate staff training.

The Impact of Inadequate Staffing

Inadequate nurse staffing increases the risks of patients. When there is a disproportionate number of patients to staff in a nursing home, it becomes difficult for the staff to provide adequate care. This leads to neglect of important tasks such as toileting, turning a patient, ensuring a patient’s comfort, and providing oral care. Due to limited time, staff may only be able to provide rudimentary care, resulting in a disproportionate number of staff to patients and poor patient-staff ratios in nursing homes.

Lack of Proper Training

Inadequate training of staff in nursing homes has a negative impact on the patients, leading to increased cases of neglect, abuse, and harm. Nursing homes are focused on increasing their profitability by hiring and retaining poorly trained staff, paying them as little as possible, and stretching them to their limits.

High turnover rates in long-term care facilities lead to patients not receiving consistent care from staff who are familiar with their needs. Patients with cognitive or behavioral issues are particularly vulnerable to abuse by untrained staff. Low levels of training also result in staff neglecting the needs of patients. The lack of preparedness of poorly trained staff for direct patient care leads to high staff turnover, and understaffing, and increases the likelihood of patient neglect. Rather than providing a caring and nurturing environment, nursing homes often force elders to recuperate in a rushed, tense, and unsupportive environment because of an undervalued, underpaid, overworked, and poorly trained workforce.

The True Cost of Neglect

Neglect is inadequate nursing care resulting in harm or death. Some consequences may be:

Physical Consequences

Elderly patients who experience neglect can suffer serious physical injury, including pressure ulcers caused by sustained pressure or friction on an area of skin. Without regular treatment and care from staff, the risk for pressure ulcers increases. Patients who spend extended periods of time in bed or a wheelchair are particularly vulnerable to these ulcers. When left untreated, these ulcers can lead to systemic infections.

Neglect and abuse of elderly patients can also lead to poor oral hygiene. Staff are responsible for daily cleanings, but these are time-consuming, resulting in residents not receiving adequate oral care. Poor oral health can cause pain, discomfort, difficulty chewing and swallowing, and nutritional problems. It can also lead to oral diseases and an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Physical neglect can also cause bruises, broken bones, burns, dehydration, malnutrition, preventable falls, sleep issues including insomnia, untreated or new medical conditions, and hygiene issues.

Emotional and Psychological Toll

Mistreatment of patients can lead to serious mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression. Nursing home residents may experience lower psychological wellbeing due to neglect.

Isolation and Loneliness

Nursing home residents may experience isolation and loneliness due to neglect. Lack of attention, care, and social interaction can trigger depression, anxiety, and emotional distress.

Loss of Dignity

Residents who are neglected can experience a loss of dignity due to inadequate hygiene, nutrition, or personal care, which may cause a decline in their self-esteem and a sense of worthlessness.

Trauma and PTSD

Individuals who have been neglected may suffer from trauma, which may result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The memories of neglectful treatment can linger with them even after they have left the facility.

Financial Burden

Financial abuse is a type of nursing home abuse that involves the inappropriate, unauthorized, or illegal use of an elderly person’s property, assets, benefits, money, or belongings for the benefit of someone other than the elderly individual.

In some cases, financial abuse and neglect in nursing homes can be connected. When nursing home staff fail to provide the necessary care and support, residents may have to pay for services or goods that should be part of the care package provided by the staff. This can result in an unfair depletion of their financial resources.

About the Author

Kurt D. Lloyd is a plaintiff’s trial lawyer who focuses on medical malpractice and other catastrophic injury cases. He lives in Chicago and represents injured clients throughout Illinois. He is also the founder of Lloyd Miller Law, Ltd.

Chicago accident lawyer Kurt D. Lloyd